Re-Thinking the Ethics of Stem Cell Research

by Tauriq Moosa

There is always the danger of dogmatism lurking within any collection of ideas. A collection of ideas tied together by a singular focus tends to be called an argument. However, it is often refreshing to have such bundles of ideas untethered and scattered after being cut by a sharper focus. It is, I would like to think, the mark of good critical analysis that one is self-critical, too; that you find an argument that you hold destroyed in order to clear the way for a more robust one.

I recently had such an experience regarding the ethics of human embryonic stem cell (HESC) research. Often we secularists, under some weird broad canvas, regard opponents to things like abortion, HESC research and euthanasia as one large pile of dogmatic reactionaries. And no wonder, considering their spokespeople are often dogmatic religious reactionaries who get given airtime on popular news-sources.

But so often forgotten are careful arguments against the typical liberal secularist view that euthanasia and HESC research is not immoral. Consider the insightful abortion debate between two non-believers, Richard Carrier and Jennifer Roth; there we have good arguments instead of speaking from the knee as many people, on both sides, are prone to do in these discussions. It should be immediately apparent that we ought not to perceive ‘our’ side as the sober, good and right, whilst anyone who disagrees as merely fanatical.

To understand the usual arguments for stem-cell research, this quick clip by Sam Harris at Beyond Belief ’06 is an excellent quick overview. But even if you don’t watch it, the arguments will come up during the post.

My experience of this sudden realisation of (possibly) holding fallacious views was through an article by Don Marquis. Professor Marquis is renowned for an article defending a secular argument for why abortion is immoral (see references). However, I encountered him after reading his, again, secular argument against HESC research.

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‘Philosophy Killed My Children’: A Response

Baby-chocolate My previous article, ‘How Philosophy Killed My Children and Why it Should Kill Yours’, seemed to have generated some debate. Unfortunately, there was much heat but little light shed on taking the subject further from most commentators/critics. Yet, what little light was shed by critics is a welcome furthering of this important discussion. Considering I was made into the title of a Nicholas Smyth post on this website, and considering the excess to which the debate collapsed into denigration, dogma and shouting matches, I wish to respond to some of the claims. In fact, this might take longer than the original piece itself considering the widespread misreading of my argument.

My argument is quite simple: there is no reason to create more people and every reason not to. I also attempted to severe the link between parenthood – an ethical attitude of helping younger people, wanting to lessen their suffering, and using our own experience to better theirs – and procreation. The latter is my target. Indeed, parenthood need not be tied to procreation. The parenting-attitude can be applied to those who already exist, not requiring us to create human life to care for. No critic highlighted a good argument to create more people, other than emotional reasons which I highlighted is, firstly, unpersuasive and, secondly, is an insult to adoptive parents who can testify to the reciprocated feelings of their adopted children. That is, we may fulfil the desire for parenthood through non-procreative means, adoption being one way.

But adoption, as they say, is one option. As I highlighted, not all of us – including me, given my age, income, etc. – would pass adoption procedures. The information I have obtained from adoption agencies highlights this much. Being unable to adopt should also tell us something important: if adoption agencies won’t let us be parents to these children, what does that tell us about the automatic pass we get to simply use our reproductive organs to make children? If agencies judge us unfit to be parents for those children who do exist, it should smack hard of blatant arrogance to bypass such a well-founded judgement to produce children of our own (I hope adoptive parents will provide some more personal details on this. I prefer hearing from them, rather from adoption agencies). This is why people who argue unless I adopt I should not judge simply fail to make a point: if I cannot adopt because I would not pass first-level acceptance as an adoptive parent, what gives me the right to just breed away? This should immediately tell me I am unfit as a parent, be it for my own or those who exist.

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